When Bill Gates established Microsoft, its mission was “a computer on every desk and in every home”. It could be argued that he attained this goal, by and large, but of course the goalposts also shifted with the advent of mobile computing, coupled with the exponential innovation in personal computing over the last 15 years. Add the Internet of Things (IoT, a term for all the smart devices we own that can store and exchange data), with an estimated 30 billion objects being added to the network by 2020, and our drawers, cupboards, garages, and so on are becoming tech graveyards as we acquire, use and then discard devices.
According to the UN’s Step Initiative, “E-waste includes almost any household or business item containing circuitry or electrical components with either power or battery supply. Although e-waste is a general term, it can be considered to denote items such as TV appliances, computers, laptops, tablets, mobile phones, white goods - for example, fridges, washing machines, dryers - home entertainment and stereo systems, toys, toasters and kettles.”
In a speech in 2015, Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa said “E-waste makes up 5% to 8% of municipal solid waste in South Africa and is growing at a rate three times faster than any other form of waste.
Before you buy that latest smartphone, stop and ask yourself: how can you dispose of your e-waste responsibly?
“The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), for example, forecasts that obsolete computers, both in China and in South Africa, will rise by 500% by 2020 compared to their 2007 levels.“
The e-Waste Association of South Africa (eWasa) was formally registered in 2008 by Keith Anderson because, at the time, no-one was talking about e-waste in the country, which is of concern. It has been established as an industry association with the intention of developing standards, conducting audits, and educating individuals on recycling.
Existing equipment manufacturers such as Samsung or Canon, which manufacturer, import and distribute technology, and retailers such as Pick n Pay and MassMart, as well as dismantlers, refurbishers and collectors make up the membership of eWasa.
So where should you take your electronic waste and what happens to it? Anderson says, “eWasa has about 1 000 collection and drop-off points around the country. We are looking to increase that to 6 000 as part of our contribution to rapid economic transformation. It provides employment and helps build small business.”
He adds that what happens to the waste depends on the item. It is first tested to see if it – or parts of it – are still functional. Refurbishers may take the working parts for use in other items. End-of-life items are processed through an accredited eWasa recycler.
Anderson acknowledges that “we aren’t able to recycle everything but we are working to get to that point. This ties back to legislation. The minister has called for industry waste management plans, including electronic waste. Once these have been submitted, the minister will choose a plan, it will be gazetted and then it will be mandatory.”
With this, we will all hopefully recycle our e-waste more efficiently. If we don't, it will have immensely adverse effects on our environment.We all need to start thinking about what we do with our devices.
For details on eWasa and the collection points around the country, check out www.ewasa.org.